August 18, 2016
Prominent Alumni Tell New Students "The Practice of Law Begins Today"
Before setting foot into a classroom, students entering their first year at Southwestern received an important message from two accomplished alumni: “Your legal careers begin now.” Conducting themselves with integrity, civility and intention during law school will have a successful impact on their professional practice. Law school is not only where students learn legal writing, contracts, evidence, torts and civil and criminal procedure. It is also the place to practice professional behavior and establish important relationships with fellow future colleagues.
Robert Glassman ’09, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP
During his Orientation keynote address, Robert Glassman ’09, a trial attorney at Panish Shea & Boyle, began his remarks by sharing a compelling story about a case to illustrate how a connection with a former Southwestern classmate influenced his career. In 2013, fellow alumnus Dan Kramer ’08 reached out to Mr. Glassman, asking him to collaborate on a major wrongful death suit. They spent six months working on the case in which they procured a very successful settlement for their client on the eve of trial. This resulted in these two attorneys, working for different firms, partnering successfully on several subsequent cases.
“Having the privilege and opportunity to work on cases like this as a newly, minted attorney would not have been possible if not for the relationships that I formed while I was here at this law school,” Mr. Glassman said.
He explained why, as students, it is critically important to treat everyone as professional colleagues. “In many ways, that phone call that Dan made to me in my office in January 2013 represents something more than just a case referral,” he said. “It represents something you’re not going to find in any of your casebooks or outlines, and you’re not going to be tested on it at the end of the semester. That phone call demonstrates why your reputation matters and why it matters starting right now. No one is going to be picking up the phone to call you if they remember you in law school lacking respect and civility….Your reputation follows you wherever you go.”
Getting excellent grades and being at the top of your class will help your career, Mr. Glassman explained, but it will not matter if you develop a reputation for exhibiting rude, arrogant or disrespectful behavior. “They won’t remember what grade you got in Property,” he said. “And they certainly won’t care.” But it is important to keep in mind that current fellow students will be future colleagues. Some may be adversaries in court. Some may become the judges that will preside over a case you argue as an attorney.
Practicing law can be stressful. New lawyers may have a learning curve when it comes to budgeting their time. They may have to sacrifice and occasionally miss fun events because there is serious work to do. So Mr. Glassman also emphasized the importance of staying organized and realistic.
“My wish for all of you as you embark on this incredible journey at Southwestern is that you amass tremendous success as law students and then as lawyers. But always remember to stay grounded,” he said.
Hon. Deborah Brazil ’96, Los Angeles Superior Court
When Judge Deborah Brazil ‘96 addressed Southwestern’s newest students, the first thing she asked them to do was just listen. There was no need to take notes. There would be plenty of time for that when classes started. She emphasized that good lawyers are great listeners.
“Congratulations,” Judge Brazil told the entering class. “I bet you feel the same way I did during my first day at Southwestern in 1993. It was the day I knew I was going to make my dream of being a lawyer come true.”
She did not know then that 20 years later, in 2013, she would get a call from California Governor Jerry Brown informing her that she had been appointed to the bench. She attributes much of her success to the education and support she received at Southwestern. That is why she gives back and is active in the law school community, not only as a member of the adjunct faculty, but also as President-Elect of the Southwestern Alumni Association.
“I want to challenge you to think of today as the beginning of your practice of law,” Judge Brazil said. “Envision the type of lawyer you want to be—not the area you want to practice in—but the kind of lawyer you want to be. I can’t read your minds, but I imagine that many of you are thinking of adjectives like ‘successful.’… Being an attorney is such a profound privilege that it will change your life forever.”
Judge Brazil spoke of the challenges that law students will face, but she encouraged everyone to embrace what is difficult, to be honest with themselves about their own strengths and weakness and seek the help and resources the law school provides.
She explained that lawyers have to learn throughout their careers. She did it when she was a prosecutor. And as a relatively new judge, she devotes a tremendous amount of time learning areas of law in which she does not have practice experience. “I say this to comfort you. The law requires thoughtful reflection and intellectual rigor. It’s challenging and takes practice.”
One of the ways to do that, she explained, it to communicate with professors outside of class. Professors are accessible for that very reason. And as an adjunct professor who teaches trial advocacy at Southwestern, Judge Brazil knows firsthand that students who seek help and clarification are more likely to succeed. “It helps you communicate with more senior levels of the legal community, something you’ll do throughout your career.”
She also talked about the need to be prepared. Have solid questions ready when meeting with a professor. Show up to class ready. Act professional, starting now.
“To be a successful lawyer, you have to have intention,” she said. “Your goal—your intention you set today—is going to be determinative to you…Think of this as the beginning of your practice of law. Think of yourself as if you’re already a lawyer. People are here to help you, but the work is yours to do.”